Building a Better Life Through Gratitude

Feeling dissatisfied with life? It turns out that the quickest way to make it better is to be grateful. Beyond being polite, researchers are finding that regularly saying thanks can improve optimism, life satisfaction, and overall well being.

In one study, researchers Emmons and McCullough(University of California 2003) randomly assigned participants one of three tasks in which they were asked to record weekly:

  • things for which they were grateful or thankful,
  • things that annoyed or bothered them, or
  • neutral events that had impacted them in some way.

Some were grateful for the Rolling Stones, while others were thankful for their friends. Hassles ranged from the poor driving skills of others to messy homes. Although what they listed varied greatly, the effects were the same. Ten weeks later, those that spent some time each day counting their blessings had rated their lives as better overall compared to participants in the other two groups.

Another study had more than 200 teenagers do a similar exercise and found similar results. Like the previous study, teens that had counted their blessings had greater life satisfaction and well being.

If you’re looking to improve your life, you can’t go wrong with gratitude. It’s inexpensive, easy to do, and something that you can do entirely on your own without needing to depend on anyone else. If you’re looking to begin your own practice of giving thanks, you could try one of the exercises relied on by researchers over the years.

Count your blessings

This method was used extensively by Emmons and McCullough in their research. The premise is that in our lives, there are many things, both large and small, that we could feel thankful for. It could be a sunny day or even a rainy day if you’re a gardener. Perhaps it’s having a roof over your head or having people who care about you. Spend a couple moments each week to think back over the past seven days and list five things in your life that you are grateful for.

Thank you notes

Showing appreciation to others and their contributions to our lives is important both for our own happiness and for our relationships. In three studies out of Florida State University, researchers found that expressing gratitude to a friend or partner helped to strengthen the relationship and bond. Make it a habit to regularly write thank you notes to parents, siblings, friends, partners, and colleagues.

Think about your thanks

While all gratitude practices should be done mindfully with thought given to what it is you’re thankful for, another exercise remains entirely in the mind. On a daily or weekly basis, set some time aside to think about someone you are thankful for and why. Focus for at least a full minute on them and on the feeling of gratitude.

Don’t worry if you struggle with it at first. In actively trying to cultivate gratitude, a funny thing happens: we actually become more grateful. While the practice might seem unnatural at first, keep at it and you will find it becoming easier to do each day.

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